Historical gold

Historical gold

By Rod Myers

It’s no secret, the Burpee Museum’s fossil hunting expedition in southeastern Montana is looking for another Nanotyrannus dinosaur. Nano bones not belonging to Jane were found in Jane’s pod in the Burpee Museum basement. Nano bones and teeth were found, but Nano teeth are so readily found, they are almost like a fossil fool’s gold. Nanotyrannus fossils other than teeth have only been found in two locations.

Dinosaur paleontologist Peter Larson, in his book Rex Appeal, describes a dig site where a dozen or so dispatched duckbilled dinosaurs were fed upon by a group of Nanotyrannuses who left their calling cards of shed teeth. Meat-eating dinosaurs were constantly growing new teeth as replacements because of frequent chomper wear and tear. The estimated lifespan of a Tyrannosaurid tooth is three years. The tooth, being partly enamel, is the hardest and toughest part of a dinosaur skeleton. This quality, despite their smaller size, gives teeth time survivability, but there are many more questions than answers as to why Nanotyrannus teeth are found, but hardly anything else of the animal is.

The famous Nanotyrannus skull housed in a Cleveland museum since the ’40s was found a mere 30 miles from Jane’s grave. With this in mind, Burpee paleontologist and expedition leader Mike Henderson plans to extend the search for a Nanotyrannus beyond Carter County, which was the locale for Burpee’s dino hunt the last three years. This area is but a portion of the highly fossil-productive Hell Creek Formation. Much of Tyrannosaurid history has been written in the Hell Creek Formation; in fact, it will continue to be written as Jane’s thick chapter is inked over the next decade.

Peter Larson, the man who dug up Sue, found all of his seven T-rexes in the Hell Creek Formation. His company, the Black Hills Institute, dubbed by some Native Americans as the 7 T-Rex Cavalry, has unearthed the most complete T-rex skeletons in the world. Part of the Hell Creek Formation happens to be in a historically rich area, and its human history strongly affects the present and will probably affect the future.

Do the following river names jar your history neurons? The Little Missouri, the Powder, the Tongue, the Rosebud and the Bighorn rivers. These are southeastern Montana rivers in the Hell Creek Formation that were once home to the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. In 1876, thousands of warriors from these tribes and others defeated and killed the glory-seeking General George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry under his immediate command. Custer, a.k.a. “Morning Star” to the Native Americans, crossed the above-mentioned rivers to meet his maker.

Custer was reviled by many Northern Plains Indians because he discovered gold in the Black Hills, which led to a mass convergence by white prospectors. This led to an unrelenting conflict. The Native Americans were earlier given the Black Hills as a reservation by the United States government, and the Native Americans guarded the Black Hills as being sacred. Northern Plains Indians called gold “the thing that drives men crazy.” Some Native Americans say the same about dinosaur bones, but I think a correlation between the two is very weak.

Sioux Indians from the region, having been stripped or separated from much of their culture by Euro-Americans, felt that fossil hunters were further stripping their heritage. They also knew of the potential wealth of Sue, so they pitched their grievance to the federal government, which had its own agenda waiting to be sprung on Peter Larson and the Black Hills Institute. The result was a long, ludicrous criminal trial against Peter Larson and his business. A long list of criminal counts was brought against the defendants, who were found not guilty on all but three counts. Larson and his associates breathed a sigh of relief, but a spiteful judge gave a harsh sentence, landing Larson in jail for 18 months, and Sue was taken from the Institute’s possession. Larson and his business recovered after jail, and Larson has become a world authority on T-rexes. His book, co-authored with his wife Kristen Donnan, titled Rex Appeal, was released last year by Invisible Cities Press and is selling well. The book is basically about Sue and the controversy that whirled about her.

In the book, Larson also discusses a species of dinosaur called Nanotyrannus which he thinks existed. The book reprints a newspaper headline that came out during the Sue trial. The headline read: “Sioux say Sue theirs.” You’ll have to read the book to find out what percentage of the $6.5 million brought by Sue’s auction went to the reservation claiming Sue’s grave land title rights. In all fairness, comparing Larson to oppressors of Native Americans is stupid. Larson has never meant any ill will to America’s original people. Dinosaur paleontology is owed an apology for the trial, but things tend to work for the better. Sue couldn’t be standing in a better place than the Chicago Field Museum—nearly a million people a year see her on display.

We in the Rockford community owe Peter Larson for the keen interest he’s given Jane and the good advice he continues to give Burpee. We owe Mr. Larson for the battle he fought for Sue. The lessons learned have taught many to go that extra mile to ensure the letter of the law is followed. We in Rockford don’t need a court battle. We don’t need strange new parents knocking at Jane’s cellar door.

To learn from history, then make it—does it get any better?

At least, it is a good day to try.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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